True Tickets Wants to Revolutionize the Live Event Ticketing Experience

In March of 2023, The Cure‘s Robert Smith called out Ticketmaster “sickened” by the ticketing giant’s exorbitant fees tacked on to ticket prices for the band’s The Lost World North American Tour. Smith wanted to opt out of “platinum” and “dynamic” priced seating to help offset scalping and sky-high ticket prices for fans. Instead, fans were still initially met with tacked-on fees — service, facility, or order processing — nearly doubling the actual ticket price.

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Though Smith managed to get Ticketmaster to offer a small refund to ticket buyers, it was a minimal resolution of the larger issues at play within live event ticketing. An uptick in ticket pricing with “fees” after purchase only scratches the surface of the other issues facing ticket buyers, artists, and venues. Other issues include the digital deluge of ticket fraud via a free range of peripheral second and third-hand selling “agents.”

[RELATED: Bruce Springsteen Responds to $5,000 Ticket Prices: “Any Complaints on the Way Out, You Can Have Your Money Back”]

Some venues have taken the ticketing debacle into their own hands. The famed Roundhouse in London, England, which housed everyone from The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and The Ramones’ very first performance in the U.K. in 1976, along with the Roundabout Theatre Company, which covers a number of Broadway and Off-Broadway venues, are using a more the direct-to-consumer ticketing platform True Tickets.

The True Tickets platform allows venues to issue tickets and then transfers dynamic QR codes to purchasers. This prevents unauthorized resales or scalping of tickets, and further protects the venue and buyer with minimal service fee beyond the actual ticket price.

True Tickets partner the Roundhouse in London (Photo: Lloyd Winters)

In spring 2023, the company also launched a ticket sharing feature, that allows venues to individually control rules for sharing digital tickets based on the events.

Founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 2017 by CEO Matt Zarracina and Steven Dobesh, True Tickets now serves 24 venues across North America and the U.K. It has already delivered nearly five million tickets, totaling more than $300 (USD) million.

[RELATED: Bruce Springsteen Responds to $5,000 Ticket Prices: “Any Complaints on the Way Out, You Can Have Your Money Back”]

In Q2, alone, True Tickets was responsible for the delivery of nearly one million tickets and is set to deliver around $4 million total within the year through its service.

Zarracina spoke to American Songwriter about some of the holes within the current ticketing system, the future of the Ticketmaster and Live Nation model, and how True Tickets want to revolutionize the entire ticket-buying experience for live events.

American Songwriter: Within the True Tickets’ platform, what has been the most enticing feature for your venue partners?

MZ: First-party data, which gives venues a direct connection with their actual audience (and not just the people who are purchasing the tickets). Due to ticket scalping and ticket sharing with no registration required, most venues know, at best, one out of three people walking through their doors and sitting in their seats. This is a massive opportunity for immediate improvement! When you have a legitimate first-party data solution that tells you who is actually coming to your venue and not just who’s buying your tickets, that opens up all sorts of opportunities for venues that are simply not possible otherwise: addressing fraud, audience development, personalized and custom curated experiences. 

On the fraud front: imagine a scalper bought and resold tickets with ticket-sharing guardrails in place. Each recipient would need to provide their name and email address in order to accept their ticket. If the venue found out that someone bought and shared 40 tickets and then saw those tickets listed on the secondary market, the venue would have all the information of who those tickets were shared with.

True Tickets CEO Matt Zarracina (Photo: Courtesy of True Tickets)

The venue can then take all those tickets back and contact the people they were shared with and say, “We believe your tickets were sold in an unauthorized manner and we’re now holding them for you at face value — and here’s a letter to get your money back from your credit card company!”

This is a real-world example that happened with Hamilton at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando (a True Tickets client). Its patrons were very happy with the outcome.

AS: What have been some of the challenges in convincing venues to transition and use a different ticketing model?

MZ: One of our biggest challenges has been addressing the misconception that working with us is “using a different ticketing model.” There is actually little model change in working with us; our delivery system is plug-and-play and works with our client’s existing ticketing systems. At Bravo! Vail in Colorado, their director of technology, David Judd, single-handedly implemented and rolled out our system, kicked off ticket delivery, and started scanning tickets in about three weeks.

While ticketing may seem benign to most people, it is mission-critical for event organizers. It has to work and not fail. We’ve found that the best way to alleviate a venue’s concerns is to continue to prove ourselves as a reliable partner by delivering a consistent level of service day in and day out.

AS: You recently launched your ticket-sharing feature. How has this been working out within the venues? How has this impacted scalping, and resales, within your partner venues?

MZ: It has been working out about as well as we could have envisioned. On average, we’re seeing one new name added to an event organizer’s database for every three tickets shared. That’s a lot of shadow audience members that these venues now have an opportunity to cultivate a relationship with — we’re talking genuine audience development with people who are already fans. Our venue clients are generating tens of thousands of net new registrations (highlighting the first-party data capability of our service) while also effectively solving unauthorized resale issues they had with their previous delivery options. It really is a best-of-both-worlds scenario.

AS: Along with recently integrating Apple Wallet, what are some other features, and improvements clients can expect moving ahead?

MZ: We’re very excited to explore applying our delivery rules engine to a rules-based approach in resale marketplaces. The vision is to provide ticket issuers and content creators a solution that allows them to restrict which tickets can be resold, where they can be resold, and for how much, all while allowing them to shape the economics around those transactions. It has the potential to completely revolutionize the world of live event ticketing.

Studio 54 in New York City uses the True Tickets platform (Photo: Andrew McGibbon Photography)

AS: Within the past year, the Ticketmaster site crashed around Taylor Swift ticket sales, while The Cure’s Robert Smith managed to obtain small discounts and some transparency of fees from the ticketing giant. What role can artists play in trying to overturn such a massive ticketing platform?

MZ: Artists have the ability to be the unified and universal voice for their fans. When issues arise, they should be applauded when they step up for their fans. That said, those efforts are almost always reactionary. It seems that a more constructive approach would be to address these issues well in advance of a tour through a mix of policy and technology requirements to create a more transparent and effective ticketing experience.

AS: Will there come a point when the Ticketmaster/Live Nation model may disintegrate?

MZ: It seems there are two factors that impact business models: (1) regulation and (2) market forces. For all the bluster we see from lawmakers regarding regulation, I’m not sure there’s enough of a consensus for regulation to impact the Ticketmaster/Live Nation model. That leaves market forces —whether from technology, consumer behavior, etc., — as the likely change agent. 

Ticketmaster/Live Nation have proven to be both resilient and savvy in adapting to challenges and change, but that does not mean they are immune to adversity in the future. The future of the ticketing industry will depend on how various players in the space both navigate the potential challenges as well as capitalize on emerging opportunities like technological advancements and shifting consumer behavior. 

Do I think their model will disintegrate? No. … Ticketmaster/Live Nation may not be well-liked, but I don’t think they are fraudulent or so poorly managed that they are at risk of a catastrophic collapse. If they are able to continue to adapt to market pressures, they will persist. However, that is by no means a given.

Photo: Julianne and George-Arygros Plaza in Costa Mesa, CA / Courtesy of True Tickets

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